CD+DVD Reviews

The SIBELIUS Edition: Vol. 13, Miscellaneous Works – BIS (4 CDs + 1 DVD)

Discoveries galore in Volume 13, many of them well worth exploring, and some world premieres.

Published on January 18, 2012

The SIBELIUS Edition: Vol. 13, Miscellaneous Works [TrackList follows] – Harri Viitanen, organ and harmonium/ The Bells of Kallio Church/ Andrew Barnett, glockenspiel / Taru Valjakka, soprano/ Hannu Jurmu, tenor/ Jorma Hynninen, baritone / Johan Simberg, recitation/ Folke Gräsbeck, Eero Heinonen, Ralf Gothóni, and Kathryn Stott, piano/ Per Enoksson and Jaakko Kuusisto, violin/ YL Male Voice Choir / Dominante Choir/ Akademiska Sängföreningen/ Tempera Quartet / Lahti Symphony Orchestra/ Finnish Radio Orchestra/ Seppo Murto, Osmo Vänskä, Jaakko Kuusisto, Matti Hyökki, Jean Sibelius, and Henrik Wikström, conductors – BIS BIS-CD-1936/38 (4 CDs + 1 DVD), 62:49; 47:04; 53:12; 79:29; Bonus DVD – [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Volume 13 of BIS’ monumental Sibelius Edition is indeed miscellaneous, a grab-bag of sketches, studies, and alternate versions. But it also includes some fascinating music for organ and voice that is little known if known at all. These appear on Disc 1, making it the most valuable, though the music on the others will be of real interest to Sibelius scholars and his most ardent fans.

Disc 1 begins with just about all there is of Sibelius’s rare excursions into the realm of organ music. Op. 111 contains two works that couldn’t be less similar. The Intrada, written for Swedish King Gustav V’s state visit to Finland in 1925, is big-spirited, celebratory, excusably pompous, and has a very good melody, rare enough among occasional pieces. On the other hand, Surusoitto (Mournful Music) was written for the funeral of Sibelius’s painter friend Akseli Gallen-Kallela ion 1931. The work’s strangely forbidding sound world—pervasively dissonant in ways that Sibelius rarely is, modal-sounding as well—has been described as “like a lunar landscape,” which I think very apt.

There are more surprises on Disc 1, in the form of antiphons and a hymn Sibelius penned for use by church choirs. Despite the composer’s strict Lutheran upbringing and frequent references to the Creator in his diaries and letters, Sibelius wasn’t a churchgoer and seems to have accepted the commission for these works grudgingly. He wrote in his diary about them as “religious things. . .he [choir conductor Heikki Klemetti] ordered them and had the right to get them.” The pieces didn’t come to Klemetti quite DOA, but neither is there much religious, or other, feeling in them except in the seraphic hymn Herran siunaus (The Lord’s Blessing). The most interesting feature is some odd syncopation in the writing for chorus that sounds strangely hiccuppy.

More inspired is another surprise—Masonic Ritual Music, Op. 113. I didn’t expect there to be much Masonic activity in Finland, and in fact, Freemasonry had been pretty much nonexistent in the country since the Russians cracked down on the movement in 1809. It made a comeback in 1922, when a new Masonic lodge was proposed for Finland, Sibelius being one of the charter members. He even served as the Lodge organist in that first year, and though it was suggested that he supply “genuinely Finnish music for the Lodge,” the composer got around to the task only in 1927. The music’s foursquare regularity and hearty optimism sound closer to religious music than the antiphons and hymn Sibelius wrote for Klemetti. No. 6 of the Op. 113, Salem (Onward, Ye Brethren), is especially attractive, sort of Sibelius’s Onward Christian Soldiers. Appropriately, Op. 113 ends with a setting of Sibelius’s most famous hymn, the central section from his tone poem Finlandia.

Disc 2 contains some variably interesting sketches, the most interesting being the fragmentary first stab at a classic composition, the tone poem Pohjola’s Daughter. In his first draft, Sibelius used music from a discarded tone-poem treatment of the Luonnotar myth. This hybrid work features two themes that didn’t make it into the final version of Pohjola’s Daughter and has an amiably rambling gait, a discursive manner that was considerably tightened by Sibelius in the work’s final incarnation. The piano sketches for the Second Symphony and Fifth Symphony are barely recognizable; the sketch for the big tune in the last movement of the Second Symphony makes you exceedingly happy Sibelius worked on it just a bit more. The sketches for Kylliki and Landscape II are promising fragments, but the Piano Works for Children seem to pass by the listener in an uninspired jogtrot—except for No. 3, which Sibelius reworked as one of the thematic elements in the first movement of Symphony No. 2.

The third disc, featuring alternate versions, will again be of most interest to the student of Sibelius. For me, the most intriguing musical story here is Sibelius’s commission to write music for the bells of the Kallio Church in Helsinki. Both of his sketches for this music, scored for glockenspiel, are based on the hymnic close of the Second Symphony. But the final version of 1912 (played here by the actual Kallio bells) is a newly composed and entirely different melody that he later adapted as a piano piece and choral song, despite the fact that it’s nowhere near as attractive or memorable as his first sketches.

Last but not least of the alternate versions is another surprise, the Andante festivo, originally written for string quartet and more often heard in a version for string orchestra. However, a third alternative for strings and timpani is what we have here, conducted by none other than the composer himself. He made this arrangement for the purposes of live broadcast to the New York World’s Fair in 1939. The 73-year-old Sibelius conducts the Finnish Radio Symphony in a performance that is slow, stately, and eloquent.

I suppose as an added inducement for prospective buyers, BIS includes a disc of excerpts from other releases in its catalogue. Titled Around Sibelius, the collection features the work of Finnish composers who were friends and colleagues of Sibelius, with the exception of Fredrik Pacius (1809-91), the so-called father of Finnish music, whose career was long past by the time Sibelius embarked on his. Another seemingly odd choice is Busoni, but then the Italian composer was an ardent supporter of Sibelius. And the choice of music from Busoni is more or less appropriate. Rather than his vast Bach-inspired later compositions, we have Busoni’s four Bagatellen for violin and piano, an early work in which the composer tries to capture the essence of national styles: there’s a Viennese waltz, a Moorish dance, and a Cossack gallop. Fortunately, BIS refused to offer us “bleeding chunks” and instead gives us whole works by these composers, even if most of the selections are necessarily brief. In all, this disc is an attractive and interesting appendix to the Sibelius Edition.

The singers and instrumentalists who contribute are all homegrown talents. They know their Sibelius intimately and deliver him with that special idiomatic flair which these little-known works need in order to make their mark. Both organist Harri Viitanen and the imposing Marcussen organ of Helsinki Cathedral impress in Sibelius’s rare works for that instrument. And of course, Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony are well known from their appearance on so many excellent BIS releases. As expected, BIS’ engineering is first-rate throughout despite the involvement of a number of different venues and sound engineers. For Sibelius completists, this volume will be a must-have. For the rest of us, there are enough interesting discoveries to make Volume 13 a desirable addendum to our Sibelius collections.

[In addition to the historical footage of the composer on Disc 3, there is also a separate bonus DVD with 16:9 images of Finnish mostly water scenes, titled “Visual Journey to the Music of Jean Sibelius.” It has a PCM Stereo soundtrack and all the selections from this set which are used are prefaced by titles as to selections and performers. The disc is labeled PAL but it is actually NTSC in the set we received...Ed.]

TrackList:

Disc 1 – Organ Works and Religious Music
Two Pieces, Op.111
[Two Pieces], JS153
Kolme johdantovuorolaulua (Three Introductory Antiphons), JS110, for liturgist [baritone], mixed choir and organ
Musique religieuse (Masonic Ritual Music), Op.113, for tenor, male voice choir, and organ

Disc 2 – Piano and Organ Music
Luonnotar – Pohjola’s Daughter, fragment
Untitled Fragment in A major
Den lilla sjöjungfrun (The Little Mermaid), fragment, JS59, for recitation and string quartet
Sketch for Kullervo, second movement
Sketch for Symphony No.2 in D Major, finale
Sketch for Symphony No.5 in E-flat Major
Pianokompositioner för barn (Piano Works for Children), JS148
Sketches for Kyllikki, three lyric pieces, Op.41
Sketches for Landscape II
Four Musical Examples for Organ
Theme for Improvisation
Sketches for Two Pieces, Op. 111

Disc 3 – Alternative Versions
Two Pieces for organ, Op.111, alternative versions
[Two Contrapuntal Exercises] for mixed choir and orchestra, alternative versions
Proposals for the Bell Melody [for Kallio Church] for glockenspiel
Musique religieuse (Masonic Ritual Music), Op.113, alternative versions
Andante festivo, JS34b, for string orchestra and timpani

“Sibelius at Home” (additional video material made in 1927 & 1945)

Disc 4 – Around Sibelius
Robert Kajanus: Finish Rhapsody No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 5
Toivo Kuula: Häärmassi (Wedding March) from Three Pieces, Op. 3b
Leevi Madetoja: Tule kanssani (Come With Me), Op. 9/3; Heijaa, heijaa! (Swing, Swing!), Op. 60/1; Luulit, ma katselin sua (You Thought I Was Watching You), Op. 68/3; Lähdettyäs (Since You Left Me), Op. 2/1; Yrtit tummat (Dark Herbs), Op. 9/1
Ferrucio Busoni: Bagatellen for violin and piano, Op. 28
Fredrik Pacius: Björneborgarnas marsch (March of the Pori Regiment)
Armas Jarnefelt: Suite in E-flat Major; Berceuse for violin and orchestra

Disc 5 – Video to Sibelius selections

—Lee Passarella




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